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CONTRACTOR PROFILE

BIG Jump

Ontario contractor Ben LeCocq, a competitive dirt bike racer and the son of a dentists, jumped right into logging and hasn't looked bck since.

By Dave Lammers

Ben LeCocq's Timberjack 850 buncher:  "The machine is well designed and nice to work on.  If you have a problem, it's usually pretty easy to fix."

When Ben LeCocq isn't operating his Timberjack 850 feller buncher, he can often be found riding motocross in his backyard in rural Thunder Bay, Ontario where he has a mile long track that includes triple jumps. The 28-year-old logging contractor has been working in the bush for seven years since he bought his first skidder at age 21. Since then, he's owned and operated skidders and processors, but he says-aside from his dirt bike- there's nothing like running the 850. 

"I love it," LeCocq says of the 1997 Timberjack machine he's owned for 18 months. "The machine is well designed and nice to work on. If you have a problem, it's usually pretty easy to fix. It's a very simple machine." Prior to purchasing the 850, LeCocq was operating a Hyundai processor he bought new in the spring of 1998. That machine eventually burned-an event that still pains LeCocq-and after renting a Timberjack machine for a short period he decided to go with the 850, equipped with a GN Roy felling head. 

"That's where I'm staying now," he says with a laugh. "No more career changes." LeCocq started out as a delimber operator for area logger Robert Drazcky. A year later in the spring of 1995 he bought his first skidder, a new John Deere 648 E. He admits he didn't have any experience; he didn't come from a family of loggers-his father is a dentist. LeCocq studied forestry at Sault College and after graduating he worked for a landscaping company. 

"I didn't have a clue how to skid wood," he says about his experience starting out with F&E Timber. "I just had the chance and went for it and figured, 'what have I got to lose?' I taught myself. Nobody showed me how to cut. I always seemed pretty good at it.

"The game is you never know when you're going to work and when you're going to stop. So when you go out there, you want to just go and waste as little time as possible."

"I don't have the patience to sit in school," he adds. "That's my problem. I just wanted to go and work." LeCocq purchased another skidder in 1996, a new John Deere 648 G. He operated the two machines for three years and says, looking back, he enjoyed that job the most. "That's been my favourite part of the job. Twelve hours in the buncher is enough. The skidder, I could sit in there for 15 or 16 hours and it wouldn't bother me." 

In the spring of 1998, LeCocq traded his skidders for a Hyundai processor. But the Timberjack 850 is a better fit for LeCocq's straight ahead, no-nonsense approach to logging. "There's more production and fewer headaches. If you get in a patch of scrappy wood, you can get through it fast." LeCocq is a contractor for northwestern Ontario forestry giant Buchanan Forest Products. Most recently, he has been working in the Graham area, approximately 200 kilometres west of Thunder Bay. 

He cuts around 60,000 cords per year, mostly jackpine and spruce, operating two 12- hour shifts along with Peter Villneff who works the night shift. "I'm a pretty hyper guy when it comes to work," LeCocq admits. "I don't waste any time. I get a little excited sometimes," he adds with a laugh.

 His focused approach means being organized and having as many parts on hand as possible to avoid extra trips to town. He has a 20-foot service trailer he built and stocks himself, which includes a hose press. "You've got to be set up and prepared in order to do well at it," he says, adding contractors starting out will waste precious time having their equipment trailered to town for repairs. LeCocq does not have time for that. "The parts are there in our service trailer, your oil, torches, whatever. 

You've got to have that. If you blow a hose, you don't want to go to town. I have all my hoses made already." LeCocq stays at a logging camp from Sunday to Friday and does his maintenance on weekends. He's known as one of the most reputable contractors in the region. "More than anything, Ben's success can be attributed to him," says sales representative Tom Trembath of equipment dealer Ontrac in Thunder Bay. "Ben could have one of the worst feller bunchers in the world and he'd still succeed. He's hands on."

A new prototype valve, with improved seals, is being tested out on Ben LeCocq's Timberjack 850 feller buncher. Carrying out work on the buncher are (left to right) Timberjack's Victor Ostrowski and Ryan Druhar and hydraulic engineer Anders Lindstrom.

"I don't have the patience to sit in school," he adds. "That's my problem. I just wanted to go and work." LeCocq purchased another skidder in 1996, a new John Deere 648 G. He operated the two machines for three years and says, looking back, he enjoyed that job the most. "That's been my favourite part of the job. Twelve hours in the buncher is enough. 

The skidder, I could sit in there for 15 or 16 hours and it wouldn't bother me." In the spring of 1998, LeCocq traded his skidders for a Hyundai processor. But the Timberjack 850 is a better fit for LeCocq's straight ahead, no-nonsense approach to logging. "There's more production and fewer headaches. If you get in a patch of scrappy wood, you can get through it fast." LeCocq is a contractor for northwestern Ontario forestry giant Buchanan Forest Products. Most recently, he has been working in the Graham area, approximately 200 kilometres west of Thunder Bay. 

He cuts around 60,000 cords per year, mostly jackpine and spruce, operating two 12- hour shifts along with Peter Villneff who works the night shift. "I'm a pretty hyper guy when it comes to work," LeCocq admits. "I don't waste any time. I get a little excited sometimes," he adds with a laugh. 

His focused approach means being organized and having as many parts on hand as possible to avoid extra trips to town. He has a 20-foot service trailer he built and stocks himself, which includes a hose press. "You've got to be set up and prepared in order to do well at it," he says, adding contractors starting out will waste precious time having their equipment trailered to town for repairs. LeCocq does not have time for that. "The parts are there in our service trailer, your oil, torches, whatever. You've got to have that. If you blow a hose, you don't want to go to town. 

Ben LeCocq: avid dirt bike racer and focused logging contractor.

I have all my hoses made already." LeCocq stays at a logging camp from Sunday to Friday and does his maintenance on weekends. He's known as one of the most reputable contractors in the region. "More than anything, Ben's success can be attributed to him," says sales representative Tom Trembath of equipment dealer Ontrac in Thunder Bay. "Ben could have one of the worst feller bunchers in the world and he'd still succeed. He's hands on."

"If there's something wrong with the machine, he's fixing it himself. If he needs a mechanic, he's still there helping the mechanic. That's just the type of guy he is. He's young. He's got lots of energy." "I learn something every day," adds LeCocq. "The game is you never know when you're going to work and when you're going to stop. So when you go out there, you want to just go and waste as little time as possible." 

LeCocq now uses skidder contractor Robert Drazcky, who was the first person to hire him; delimbing is contracted to Brian and Allan Maitland. Drazcky operates two John Deere skidders, a 648 Glll and a 748 Gll. Two John Deere delimbers round out the operation, a 230 and a 790. LeCocq admits there is some added stress that goes with being a contractor. "If there is a problem with the delimbing or skidding or something, then it always comes back on me." 

He says it's more risky for young contractors starting out these days than it was when he purchased his first machines. "When I started out, I only needed $10,000 to pay my first month's rent on the machine and away you go. 

Now there are so many shutdowns. The wood industry is so crazy you never know what's going to happen. If there are no wood sales in town, we're parked. It's an unpredictable business, that's the problem. It seems the only guys that are hanging on are the guys who have been doing it for a while. "You've got to live on a pretty tight budget when you first start out and be smart about things," he adds. "A guy will get out there and get a machine and he's got some money coming in, 'I'll go and spend it all.' When I started out, I was living with my parents." 

On weekends, LeCocq races dirt bikes competitively and also has riders out to his homemade track west of Thunder Bay. He races in the Junior class of motocross east of the city at Nip-Rock Raceway. More than anything, he says, motocross helps him take his mind off his job. "As soon as I get home, I go and I ride and ride and ride and forget about the bush."

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